There had been lots of motion-capture characters in film, but the Na'vi are probably the first ones anyone would want to have sex with.
The holographic maps Parker uses and all the other screens in the base.
And the forest, particularly at night in a world full of bioluminescence, and the flying machines and creatures, and Sam Worthington's convincingly atrophied legs.
One of the most impressive things about the effects was the way the CG characters interacted with the live action ones. In particular the sequence between Jake and Neytiri when she sees Jake's human body for the first time. Jake touches Neytiri's Face and Neytiri holds Jake's hand, and it looks perfectly seamless.
The 3D was simply revolutionary. This was the first 3D movie with a truly progressive depth of field to fully exploit the effect as opposed to a succession of fairly flat layers with a few gimmicky objects being waved in the audience's face.
Captain America: The First Avenger was shot with 90% PRACTICAL EFFECTS. How bloody awesome is that? Scenes like the train scene, any of the shield tossing scenes, and the on foot street chase (which uses slowed frame rates to make it appear as if the titular character is running and jumping really fast) are just bone-chillingly awesome as a result. In addition, Johnston shot the film in 2D with 3D in mind so he could ensure careful attention to detail for the 3D conversion was paid. The result is an awesome practical effects driven film that is awesome watching it, and even looking insanely awesome in 3D, despite being post-converted.
The 3D conversion itself was raved about when released in cinemas. Many thought the film was shot in 3D, it looked so bloody awesome. When seen in UltraAVX cinemas, one can't help but be blown away. Further, the scene where the shield swings into the camera before heading into the base near the end is so well done, it'll make you jump out of your seat.
While a lot of it falls because of the actor, the visual effects used to show a pre Super-Soldier Serum Steve Rogers is pretty impressive. Rather than paste Evans's head onto a scrawnier actor, they actually slimmed him down using SFX, and it's quite convincing to the point that some fans thought the post Super-Soldier Serum was special effects.
The Muppet Movie is wall-to-wall special effects derring-do, used in the name of making the Muppets seem like real people that can move around freely. By far, the most famous example is a brief shot of Kermit the Frog riding a bicycle, but the movie tops it with scenes of Fozzie Bear driving cars, Gonzo floating away on balloons, and a giant animatronic Animal scaring away Doc Hopper and his posse. It goes without saying that Jim Henson, Frank Oz and the other Muppet performers went through hell to make these scenes work.
The Fall - How did the director pulled this movie off with NO CGI WHATSOEVER? Just about any scene in the film could be framed and put in an art museum. It's THAT beautiful. Then you take into account that shooting took 4 years, and Over 20 Countries, and the fact that the film is great is a miracle.
Ditto for Bram Stokers Dracula, released in 1992. Mind you this film was released in 1992 when computer effects were beginning to make their big boom in the film industry.
Say what you will about The Last Airbender, but Industrial Light and Magic really outdid themselves in the visual effects department, despite a sloppily-adapted screenplay and 3D footage that looked like it was tacked on at the last minute. Just look at these fight scenes and tell me that they are fake.
Some Buster Keaton films contain astonishing sequences created by the simplest means.
In one of his films with Fatty Arbuckle, "Moonshine," 50 policemen emerge from a single car. This was accomplished by masking out part of the frame to hide the fact that the cops were entering the car on one side and exiting from the other. Once they had footage of the police leaving the car, they rewound the reel, masked the exposed section and filmed the empty vehicle with the unexposed film. Result: clowns exiting a car taken Up to Eleven. Here's the really clever part: Buster used jacks to lift the entire car off the ground so it wouldn't bounce on its shocks as the actors climbed through.
At the start of his short "The Playhouse," masking and multiple exposures are used so Buster can play everyone in a theater: the performers, the orchestra, and the entire audience. At one point, nine Busters are onstage simultaneously performing a minstrel routine. This required the camera operator to crank the film through the camera at exactly the same speed for every take.
Jacobs Ladder. None of the visual effects are optical. None. It's entirely "real".
People still have to remind themselves that the Xenomorph in Alien isn't a real creature. The dripping saliva makes it difficult.
Hell, most of Aliens still looks incredible today, with virtually no special effect failure at all. Even the fact that it's now 80s Zeerust hasn't dampened how awesome it is.
It should be noted that in the climactic fight, half of it consists of miniature models of the powerloader and Alien Queen parrying back and forth. The editing is so good that it's nigh-impossible to tell which are miniature shots and which are the full-size props.
The loader-units were so well done that the film-makers were contacted by companies hoping to procure some for heavy cargo lifting. Alas.
And in the red corner, the Alien Queen puppet remains, to this day, the most amazing animatronic ever created. That thing is mind-blowing and scary as shit!
Revenge of the Siths opening sequence. Calm flyover of a lone Star Destroyer, two fighters appear, then just as they look down below the Star Destroyer, WAR! In a long take, you have two fighters winding their way through a massive warzone. The juxtaposition of sedate view vs. intense warzone is a reminder that Lucas is a hell of a visual director.
Ladies and Gentlemen. Did you know that the minute-long battle between Anakin and Obi-wan took over 700 days to complete? And it was wonderful, wasn't it?
While the space battle in Return of the Jedi is impressive on its own, it becomes a thing of beauty when considering that every single ship on screen is a model, the incredible sense of scale created with these tiny little things.
Tiny, huh? Even more impressive is the fact that the Star Destroyer models were around 2.5 meters long — and moved smoothly.
No Clone Trooper suits were built for Episodes II and III. Yes, they're all Serkis Folk. The effects are that realistic!
These days it's more obvious that the Yoda from Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi is a puppet. But what a puppet! Star Wars special effects have become somewhat dated, but even now they don't hold up terribly at all.
It should be noted that at the time, there was actually a small movement that attempted to get Frank Oz nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as Yoda.
You think Yoda was an impressive puppet? If you're looking for an impressive puppet in the Star Wars trilogy, look no further than Jabba the Hutt!
The original and the best, the opening of A New Hope.
And speaking of CG creation, much of Count Dooku's saber duels in Episodes II and III featured a body double for Christopher Lee with his head composited into the shot. In fact, his part in Episode III was filmed at a different time than Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christenson's, but you'd never know it in the final film because the compositing and editing is absolutely seamless.
The brief sequences from the trailer look absolutely stunning. Even more impressive is that most of the effects are apparently being done practically rather than the CGI approach of the prequel trilogy. Special mention to the Millennium Falcon dogfighting with some TIE fighters.
Another mention goes to BB-8, who is a controllable practical effect as proven at Celebration Anaheim 2015.
The muffin Rey makes. She puts the mixture into a bowl right in front of the audience's face, and while the audience is distracted watching her in the background the water seamlessly forms into a muffin.
It's been said that the special effects in Apollo 13 were so awesome, NASA asked the producers if they could use it. These guys really showed their work.
The production crew brought in old mission controllers to see the reproduction of mission control, and there are various quotes to the effect of "someone would ask where I lived and I would point in the direction of my house — if I were in mission control in Houston" and "I would leave the set at the end of the day and look for the elevator, because the real mission control was on the third floor"
The Harry Potter film series managed to utilize and IMPROVE UPON this trope since Philosopher's Stone. Just try to say you didn't gasp in awe at the Wizard Chess, the Anaconda escaping from the London Zoo scenes, as well as the final duel between Harry and Quirrel/ Voldemort in the first film.
The titular robots in Transformers (2007) are Technology Porn incarnate. The sheer jaw-dropping complexity of the robots and their millions of moving parts makes it hard to believe that a human being actually designed that thing. And then you realize the visual effects designers had to invent entirely new technology to get it done, a leap that hadn't been made since Jurassic Park.
Ironhide's cannons alone contain more parts than some of the other robots.
Revenge of the Fallen is apparently to take this Up to Eleven. Devastator's CG model is apparently so bloody complicated that it MELTED an animator's computer.
From IMDB: "A single IMAX shot in the movie would have taken almost 3 years to render on a top of the line home PC running nonstop. If you rendered the entire movie on a modern home PC, you would have had to start the renders 16,000 years ago (when cave paintings like the Hall of Bulls were being made) to finish for this year's premiere."
Dark of The Moon takes it one step further with an all out alien invasion and the appearance of Driller, a machine that is not only bigger than Devastator (In both size and piece count), but the scene in which it destroys a building towards the end took ILM's top performance computers close to an hour to load. (also, it took up the entire ILM render farm to be finished!)
Max Schreck's Nosferatu makeup. Best thing? His name literally translates from German into "Max Scare".
The various effects of The Last Mimzy, except for the rather cheap-CG "space bridge" in one scene, must set some kind of record for integration into the scene—they seem so tangible that one has to regret not having the wonderful toys that cause them in-story...
Say what you will about Star Trek The Motion Picture, but the glorious shots of the various starships (especially the Enterprise) definitely belong here.
Very true, but they pale in comparison to the shootouts in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Especially the Mutara Nebula battle. Hell, the Mutara Nebula itself, which has been re-used in dozens of shows and movies since.
Star Trek: First Contact is considered the best of The Next Generation films, if only because of the insanity of the Borg battle above Earth near the beginning. The Borg ship alone is about the size of the entire Starfleet armada sent to destroy it.
For such a lacking movie, the destruction of the Enterprise-D from Star Trek: Generations was a thing of beauty. You know you're doing something right when your ship crashing is so cool it becomes a Moment Of Awesome.
It's particularly awesome because it was done with practical effects, not CGI or animation. And it looks absolutely AMAZING.
The flying on fire/stretching/invisible/clobbrin' scenes in Fantastic Four. Say what you want about various members of the cast, but the crew definitely knew what they were doing.
The Lord Of The Rings film trilogy set a standard for creating a whole other world that has yet to be met. Yes, even by Star Wars.
Indeed, The Lord Of The Rings movies: Basically the Star Wars for this generation, shattering the boundaries of visual effects. Technology used for many of the film's effects was invented specifically for the movie, such as the Balrog's flaming skin, and the unforgettable stampede of a hundred Oliphaunts. From that first scene of 'The Fellowship Of The Ring' where thousands of elves and men and ungodly creatures are blackening the sky with arrows and you immediately know the films are going to be amazing, to the first shots of Hobbiton, to Rivendell, to all that suspense leading up to the onslaught of Orcs in Moria and then they get there and they're f*** ing horrible, to the troll and Balrog to Lothlórien to Gollum changing everything and calling for demands that a CGI character get an Oscar nomination, to Helm's Deep to the Pelennor Fields to the entire rest of the trilogy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy could be the mascot for this article. True magic.
What's all the more impressive, is in the knowledge that whenever possible, everything that appears on film actually exists in one form or another and was seamlessly put together for the finished product. This includes just about every static/scenery piece in all three movies, regardless of scale. Truly a new standard in model making/filming.
Most of the horses in the epic battle sequences were CGI. Even professional equestrians have difficulty telling them apart from real horses.
LotR wasn't just crowning-level awesome for how good the effects looked, but how they also acted. The Programmers didn't want to script the battles by hand, so they programmed all of the CGI characters to go nuts and try to kill each other. At one point in filming, the human armies started running away from the Orcish armies because they didn't know how to deal with the incoming oliphaunt riders!
While just about every scene has multiple examples of this trope, the one that comes immediately to mind is the scene in The Two Towers where Saruman's spell on King Théoden is broken and he turns back to his former self.
For all the glory that was the CGI involved, the behind the scenes show just how breathtaking practical effects can be; upwards of 90% of the shots showing folks of varying heights (mostly Gandalf and Frodo) interacting with each other was done through old-school trickery like forced perspective, creative props, etc. As just ONE example, Frodo and Gandalf aren't riding side by side, that carriage top was basically split in half and separated by a good 6 feet with the camera lined up so perfectly you couldn't see the seam, even if you weren't busy trying to find the (nonexistent) green screen and CGI artifacts.
Similarly, The Hobbit has special effects on par with LotR. One specific example comes to mind in Desolation of Smaug with the titular dragon. You'd be seriously hard pressed to find a better computer generated dragon than the all powerful Smaug. The tales are true.
Peter Jackson's King Kong (2005) was a box office disappointment considering the success of The Lord of the Rings, but had if anything even more sophisticated FX. Re-creating midtown Manhattan from a tiny blue-screened backlot in New Zealand works unbelievably well, and the dinosaur is stunning.
The three T-Rexs versus Kong with our little damsel in distress tossed in the middle was simply flawless.
The stop-motion FX of the original 1933 version still holds up amazingly well and can even stump modern FX arists due to their complexity and detail, made all the more over-the-top because each one was done in a single take.
In the early scenes of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a typical viewer stares and tries to figure out how they made the Toons look so real. By the end, they're not doing so any more — simply because they've forgotten they're looking at special effects.
Made all the more awesome when you actually sit and consider that computer graphics were not an option when the film was made and everything is hand-drawn. The computer only corrected the lighting of the cartoons so they mixed up well.
Not only is the animation stunning, but the physical effects behind it as well. They never once skimped on showing a toon holding a real object or grabbing a real person. Roger can even jump on a bed, and the bed compresses and expels dust in a totally convincing manner. The DVD shows that if you remove the animation, you are left with probably the most elaborate "Invisible Man" movie ever made.
Paul Verhoeven's Hollow Man is a badly written, badly plotted piece of dreck with mediocre performances and a lot of bad taste. Some people have seen it repeatedly, if only just to look at those amazing, gorgeous special effects.
Kevin Bacon's body was so detailed that medical schools used it as instructional material.
Bacon also requested, only somewhat jokingly, that if any of the high resolution scans of his naked body are ever released into the wild that people do him the courtesy of *ahem* "enhancing" certain body parts.
The effects in any Indiana Jones movie, particularly Temple of Doom, are incredible to watch. That mine cart sequence model was made out of tin foil painted brown.
And the miniature sets were so claustrophobic they couldn't fit a full-sized movie camera into them, so they filmed the scene using a specially-modified SLR still camera with a big film magazine.
Remember that part in the first Pirates of the Caribbean where Jack Sparrow entered Port Royal with his ship sinking just enough to get him to step onto the dock? Know how they did that? They had a huge tank of water, put a green screen behind it, stuck a movable dock in it and kept the ship in one place. They then slowly let the water out and moved the dock away while filming, then they reversed the film. End result? Complex shot achieved by use of one of the easiest effects to do, ever.
Not to mention the awesome skeleton pirates.
Those skeleton pirates debuted as WETA was working on the equally spooky Army of the Dead, which prompted a collective "Oh Goddammit!" and grudging admiration.
Davy Jones. The head was so well animated that even critics thought it was a headpiece of sorts.
Davy Jones, amazingly enough, is played by a real guy, Bill Nighy, who did all of his work in a blue suit with motion trackers on it. He is more famously one of the big bad vampires in the Underworld films.
It doesn't help that Davy Jones is computer generated genius and had some good lines.
They immediately had Davy and his crew walking around in bright sunlight and they still looked good. WETA found to be Gollum to be insanely difficult and that's just one character, who's naked and dry most of the time!
The Matrix Reloaded: Two scenes spring to mind, the Neb docking at Zion, and the car chase to end all car chases. HSQ indeed.
While the latter two Back to the Future films aren't as beloved as the original, they do exhibit Talking to Himself scenes of incredible complexity for their time, such as Michael J. Fox playing most of the members of the McFly family circa 2015, and the elderly Biff Tannen giving his teenaged self Gray's Sports Almanac.
In that above scene, the arm Old Biff uses to pass the Almanac to Young Biff after they hear the football game? A mechanical one. You'd never freaking tell.
And of course, when you talk about Back to the Future and awesome visual effects, you have to mention the DeLorean and the time train.
Johnny 5. Just... Johnny 5. Of course, considering how it's been said the robot itself was the most expensive piece in the entire movie...
...which meant the directors had to use some simple gimmicks to create some awesome effects. Ever wondered how they perfectly created Johnny flipping through the books he read? Compressed air blowing the book pages while a rotor whipped a robotic hand back and fourth. That's it. Doesn't quite look that simple, does it?
Not to mention a team of talented puppeteers who managed to get so much life out of a few moving parts and head positioning, along with the model makers who gave them that freedom.
There's so much high-grade win in The Dark Knight that some things go unmentioned. Like Two-Face. How the hell DID they do that??
It wasn't extremely realistic, though - that badly burned face would largely fall apart in a very short time. They apparently did initially experiment with a far more realistic face with more skin and realistic burns, but it looked so horrifying they feared they would get R-rating for it.
Miniatures. They used a miniature Garbage truck and miniature Tumbler. Same with blowing said Tumbler, using three different shots in three different locations.
Some of the most impressive visual effects in The Dark Knight might be described in this context as "cheating", since there is no effect — they actually did what they showed on screen. Examples: flipping (not rolling) a full-sized semi, blowing up & collapsing a building.
It opens with the destruction of a plane in midair. They actually destroyed a real plane for that scene and it looks stunning.
The Bat isn't CGI. It's an actual sized purpose-built vehicle suspended in midair by wires from helicopters and cranes with hydraulic controls to make it look like its maneuvering.
The Fifth Element. The car chase scene between Korbin Dallas and the police. It's hard not to jerk and sway with the awesome camera and great special effects.
Watchmen has a bajillion of these, include the one of Dr. Manhattan on Mars when the crystalline castle rises out of the ground. It is jaw-dropping if seen in IMAX theaters.
Several more are subtle improvements to inconsistencies from the book: instead of blasting the tank with some sort of never-used-again hand beam, John, well, takes it to pieces.
Sin City. Outside of the beautiful spot coloring, worth noting is the fact that Mickey Rourke never met Elijah Wood, who he had a fucking fight scene with. That is just brilliant. And the fact that out of the whole movie there were only three sets? Very deceptive. The movie boasts both flashy and subtle CG to great effect.
The scene in Master and Commander where the Surprise is tossed and turned in the typhoon off of Cape Horn.
Not that better - the "go-motion" blurred effects aren't particularly good, but that's not Winston's work (the huge Terminator puppet is).
But then look at the 2nd one. First the skeletons at the beginning, that is 100% Stan Winston. See the scene where they made an animatronic Arnold? As in a torso of him? You do, but you don't see it. Where he walks down the hallway with a grenade launcher firing tear-gas, it's not Arnold. That's one of Winston's effects.
May he rest in peace.
TRON. Sure, the effects might be hokey for some now, but this was from 1982.
TRON: Legacy does not disappoint in this department either. It is the shiniest, shiniest movie ever, including Star Trek.
CGI? Heck, it's hard to believe the footage isn't entirely authentic!
If you're still in any doubt, consider that at the time the Earth had not yet been photographed from anything higher than a low orbit - that is, we had no photos of it that took in the whole Earth in one go. The famous Blue Marble photo was still four years away when the film was released! Remember that next time you see the shot of the Earth rotating in the window of the space station as it spins to simulate gravity. Similarly, nobody had ever seen Jupiter except as a blurry image through ground-based telescopes. The high-resolution images of the solar system we now have and take for granted simply didn't exist back then.
Also, though Douglas Trumbull's film Brainstorm faced major problems during production, the ending has probably one of the most spectacular depictions of a Near-Death Experience put on film.
Labyrinth has high production values throughout, but it's telling that the Signature Scene is the climax in the "Escher room", which impressively brings together practical effects, camera tricks, compositing work, and excellent editing.
The original The Terminator was a fairly cheap movie for its day, with a budget of only 6.5 million dollars; which is why the producers of T:SCC managed to convince studio heads that they could make a good Terminator show on a TV show budget. This does, however, really highlight Stan Winston's genius, since the T:SCC people are following his creation of the damaged Terminator makeup. Oh, and let's not forget his amazing puppet T-1000. Thought the T-1000 was completely CGI? Only six of the fifteen minutes of screen time the T-1000 takes up for its transformations are CGI. That's not even counting his Predator and Alien Queen designs. Stan Winston was amazing; he created the most iconic monsters and machines outside Star Wars, firing up an entire generation's imagination - and terror. And awe.
The T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Nearly twenty years later, and that liquid metal literal killing machine remains as impressive as ever, from the moment it heals its first wounds all the way to its Shapeshifter Swan Song. Also noted for being the first time a completely CGI character spoke on film.
The T-800 in Terminator Salvation. They used a mold of Arnold's face from 1984 to digitally recreate him over the face of a body double.
The younger T-800 in Terminator Genisys. They didn't just replace the face this time — that's a complete digital double.
Let's not forget the incredibly kick-ass climatic fight scene at the end.
Lack of screen time aside, the Symbiote was particularly well done. They turn the symbiote into a creepy, tentacle like thing. It doesn't just bond with Spider-Man, it latches onto him. The best moment is during the bonding scene. You see the Symbiote's shadow first looking a little like Venom's head, complete with jaw and tongue. Then it morphs into a monstrous hand that grabs onto Spidey's arm.
Doc Ock's four tentacles. They had a full puppet rig for a lot of the close-ups, and CGI for action shots. And it. Is. AWESOME.
The only alien invasion more realistic than The War of the Worlds would be one actually occurring, filmed with a camcorder. Assuming this is all referring to the Spielberg remake, the 1953 version still looks pretty good as well.
It really says something that all the fancy-schmancy CGI effects in Superman Returns don't even equal, let alone surpass, the effects from the 1978 Superman of 30 years earlier. Perhaps not the literal truth, but the sentiment is sound.
Moonraker may be one of the sketchier James Bond movies, but the Ken Adam-designed space station is legitimately incredible.
Give some credit also to model maker Derek Meddings, who previously built a supertanker model for The Spy Who Loved Me that was so convincing that Exxon executives asked the producers where they got a real one for the film!
Moon, by Duncan Jones, consistently maintains a feel of a moon base, complete with exterior shots, and a robot assistant. The kicker? It did it for five million, utter pocket change by any movie making standards.
Then there is the great transformation scene with Rick Baker's effects in An American Werewolf in London, that holds up amazingly well nearly thirty years later.
There's the single enormous shot in Children of Men, with the camera seemingly fixed to Clive Owen's shoulder as he runs around a war zone.
The movie is full of awesome scenes like these, like the scene that leads up to and includes the assassination of Julian.
When viewing District 9, there are parts where you'll swear you notice the switch between CGI and puppets/make-up. There are no switches—the aliens are entirely CGI. You'll also believe that there is an honest-to-God spaceship hovering above Johannesburg.
Star Wreck: Would you believe this movie's special effects shots were done in people's homes and their rendering farm was in a kitchen?
The sequence in Bride of Frankenstein with miniature humans (created by Dr. Praetorius) in glass bottles is pretty astonishing for 1935! Watch it here.
The entire "battle in the sky" sequence in Gamera 3: Revenge Of Irys. It's just beautifully stunning to look at and you really start to believe that a giant turtle as well as a giant tentacled....thing are duking it out above the clouds near Kyoto, Japan.
Heck, the whole film qualifies. The effects used to bring the title Kaiju to life (Via a mixture of CGI, puppetry, and good old-fashioned "suitimation") are nothing short of incredible.
Kaneko's Gamera series generally feature fantastic visuals, and keep improving through the series. One standout is Legion (although her Toho 'counterpart', Biollante, is even more stunning).
The miniature sets in The Return Of Godzilla are pretty spectacular, especially during the faceoff between the Super-X and Godzilla.
Heisei Godzilla films are considered the pinnacle of the Toho monster films. With each film, Godzilla's suit improved more and more, becoming more lifelike and the sets become more elaborate. Minus the asteroid scene in Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla, the final battle and Space Godzilla's arrival on Earth rivals even the best CGI of today in terms of scope, with practical effects galore. And M.O.U.G.E.R.A is a highly impressive animatronic instead of a suit.
King Ghidorah's introduction is still an amazing piece of artistry.
And also Biollante. Just Biollante. Holy Crap. Suitmation at its finest. In fact, the whole final battle is a thing of beauty (and horror).
As is the shot of Rose Biollante in the lake.
The original Gojira still looks great despite age and budget due to the amazing shadowy cinematography, especially in the scenes of city destruction.
The flooding of the Osaka subway in Godzilla Raids Again is still jaw-droppingly convincing...and horrifying.
Although there is debate, a lot of people would agree that the King of the Monsters himself looks fantastic.
The shot of the soldiers HALO jumping from a plane down to the burning city below is something to behold. The part where it cuts to Ford Brody's POV perfectly captures the feel of jumping off of a plane.
All this is made more impressive by the fact that the film had a $160,000,000 budget, which is four-fifths of what most American Summer blockbusters cost to produce at the least, and what's even better is that the effects look better than titles with bigger budgets behind them.
The effects of Godzilla himself and the MUTO's are awe inspiring. You truly see the scale of how big these creatures are, and Godzilla himself is highly detailed and has very convincing facial features.
Have to give a shout out to Escape from New York, with the "computer graphics" used in the navigation system in Snake's plane. The production crew created them by building a physical model, covering it with lines of reflective tape, and filming the result; it still looks good today.
The Vogons in the film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Forget CG: when it comes to beautifully-realized monsters, you just can't beat the Jim Henson Creature Shop.
The Magarathean factory floor was also very impressive.
Humma Kavula's thousands of tiny little robotic legs were extremely impressive, as was the Earth being blown up. But it all pales in comparison to the awesomeness of seeing the Earth being rebuilt, bit by bit, with massive hoses to fill the oceans and paints and chisels for the mountains.
RENT's special effects were done by Industrial Lights And Magic, so it goes without saying that it's got a lot of these, but the "Without You" sequence takes the cake. It's a montage of the character's lives, from roughly late January to right around Halloween. There's a little support group for people with AIDS called Life Support. The camera pans around the room at a few points, and people fade away... how they made that look so smooth is just amazing. The camera doesn't jump at all, and everyone who didn't fade is still right where they were and it's just amazing. Even with the Tear Jerker of that scene... wow.
The title characters of Where the Wild Things Are react to the world very realistically; not surprising considering that most of the time when you see them, they're actually right on camera. Most of the time CGI was only used for the facial animation, and even that is incredibly lifelike.
This Is My Song from the Tom Thumb movie. Especially when he dances with a paper cutout of himself.
Say what you will of 2012, but this sure looks like its entire purpose.
And on this point at least, it delivered in spades; Monumental Damage has never looked so good. The sequence of driving and flying through Los Angeles as it crumbles into the sea, with our heroes driving under collapsing overpasses, though falling offices and flying under subway trains is astounding.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army's graphics were utterly superb, from the nature elemental to the vicious swarm of tooth pixies to the titular Golden Army. Hellboy and Abe sure looked real, and Kraus's spirit-steam effects were fun to watch.
It helps they have Ron Perlman in the red suit. As someone once put it, "Ron Perlman is Hellboy. You don't need makeup, just paint him red."
Its prequels, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and especially Dawn of the Planet of the Apes show off arguably some of the finest use of CGI ever, making the motion-captured apes near seamless. Dawn in particular has been praised as having some of the best use of CGI to enhance storytelling, working with excellent motion-capture performances to infuse real humanity into the apes.
The special effects in Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes (2001) are considered to be the best aspect of the film. The suits are incredibly well-detailed and resemble real apes better than ever before. Even more then a decade later, the suits can offer serious competition to the digital apes in the reboot series.
Sunshine: The ending scene where Capa is looking at the sun is particularly beautiful, but there's a whole bunch of stunning visuals in this movie.
The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. The suits and puppets used in the film were as complex and top-of-the-line as animatronics got back then. Jim Henson did the creatures of the film not not for money (it was an independent film), or fame, but simply because he knew it would change how his company would have to do these things. Even today the Turtles and Splinter look totally real even to eyes that have been spoiled by CG effects. As soon as you see the Turtles turn that corner in the opening titles you completely buy into that these things are alive, they show any and every emotion conceivable throughout the action of the movie, and all four of them have a wholly unique face and body structure (not many people notice this, but Raphael has a small scar under his left eye, that's dedication). The system that governed the facial movements went on to become the Henson Control System, widely regarded as the best in animatronics, and is still in use today. This is to say nothing of the darkly beautiful underground sets that comprise the fictional New York sewers and the Turtles' home.
Speaking of the Turtles, say what you will of TMNT, but that contains some of the most beautiful CGI in a Weinstein Brothers movie yet. The buildings, lighting, the way the clothes move in the wind, and even how the rain trickles off the turtles' shells is PHENOMENAL.
"They've got some pretty well trained dinosaurs..." - a friend's comment on the film.
In the third movie Velociraptors were depicted by both CGI and full-sized animatronic puppets. Visually it's virtually impossible to distinguish between the two, and both look outright hyper-realistic. This is an awesome achievement in both CGI and animatronics.
Speaking of the third film, we also get to see an excellent and convincing image of a Pteranodon snatching up a human, as well as a really well shot scene of said Pteranodon carrying the boy on a reluctant flight around the territory. Accurate or not, that scene was really well done.
The dinosaur models in The Lost World: Jurassic Park are so good, they even look real in the "making of" featurette when they're shown in the workshop with plain fluorescent overhead lighting and no camera tricks.
Jurassic World: Par for the course of a good Jurassic Park movie. Special mention goes to the Gyrospheres, the Mosasaurus Feeding Show, the pterosaur attack, the dying Apatosaurus, and the Innovation Center holograms.
The climactic skeleton fight in Jason and the Argonauts is stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen's CMoA. Although every monster in that film was cool; Talos was voted the second greatest movie monster by Empire readers for a reason, guys.
The Audrey II. At first it looks like an obvious puppet, but once that thing starts talking, you forget that pretty quickly.
A very old example: one of the actors in Seven Samurai had never handled a sword in his life. With some clever camera tricks, he looked like the best swordsman in the film. Considering that this is long before digital editing, that's pretty impressive.
Mary Poppins is another classic example whose effects still hold up very well today.
While the original is mentioned in the Harryhausen section above, the remake of Clash of the Titans deserves to be mentioned too. Specifically, the Kraken itself was jaw-droppingly awesome in every way, from its alien design, to all of its limbs twisting and moving around, to the sheer volume of water pouring off the thing as it moves, the effects guys did an incredible job making that thing look huge. Also worthy of mention, Pegasus.
The Mummy! From the opening shot of Thebes, to Imhotep's walking, talking corpse, the plagues, the sand wall, and the soldier mummies were just pure epic.
In Dr. Strangelove, the filmmakers asked the army if they could take pictures of the then state of the art B-52 cockpit for the on plane scenes. The Air Force denied their request citing national security reasons. What do the filmmakers do? Go look at old B-29 cockpit and base the design off that and exterior shots of the B-52 nose section. When they invited the military to view the result, they were told that "it was absolutely correct, even to the little black box which was the CRM." Director Stanley Kubrick was afraid of an FBI investigation after that.
Speed, Fucking, Racer. Yes, within the first, like, 5 minutes of the film you will be very much able to tell this is all CGI. But keep in mind that it is trying to be essentially a live action Anime, on crack, and damnit, it looks pretty.
The exploding head, and its subsequent regeneration, in Species II.
When Frank escapes The Labyrinth in Hellraiser, and slowly grows from a puddle to a vaguely humanoid form.
Serenity The entire movie is full of brilliant effects , but that one scene near the end, when the Reavers come out of that nebula and just engage the Alliance fleet waiting there head-on! That scene was also quite definitely a Moment Of Awesome.
Everything in zero-g, particularly the first fight scene where they run around all three dimensions of that hallway to beat the crap out of each other.
What's particularly cool is that the hallway scene was actually filmed in real life—they actually built a rotating hallway to film the scene in! Not that that makes it any less of an amazing effect!
The streets of Paris exploding around (a very calm) Cobb and Ariadne.
The streets of Paris folding in half.
The decrepit city in the fourth dream layer.
Many say that the best visual effects are those you don't notice, and that's so true for The Dark Knight Saga, especially, well, The Dark Knight. They couldn't do the jump off the Two-ifc in Hong Kong for real, so that's really a green screen effect. The helicopter crash is some realistic CGI too. Not to mention the Batpod's emergence from the Tumbler. And some of the big car chase is made using minuature models. One really subtle instance is that the windows on the top floor of the hospital that blows up? Those were CGI because the real windows were stolen. And then the hospital explodes. Really spectacularly. Also, Batman's sonar vision is some trippy and very beautiful stuff.
Batman Begins was pretty good with this too. The climatic train sequence was done mostly with minuatures, and also the fear toxin hallucination sequences were genuine Nightmare Fuel. The League Of Assassins' dojo being blown up was nice minuature model work too, and a lot of the Tumbler chase is pretty good game for this trope.
Batman also has several incredible visual effects for its time (that still look pretty damn good today), made all the more amazing when you realize that there's no CGI involved whatsoever. In particular, every sequence with the Batmobile, the Batwing sequence, and the shootout in the Axis Chemicals Plant just look incredible and feel like they were ripped out of a comic book.
V for Vendetta. Made on a considerably lower budget than many successful comic book film adaptations, the film boasts various cool action setpieces. The domino scene was done for real by Weijers Domino Productions from the Netherlands. And they had to do the elaborate setup twice because of problems with the camera angles the first time around. And when the houses of parliament get blown up at the end? Minuature effects. Boo yeah!
Most anyone you ask will agree that the effects on The Incredible Hulk (the one with Edward Norton) were many, many times better than those of the earlier Hulk film. Both the Hulk and the Abomination had very good muscle definition and skin texture for CGI creations, and the scenes where they are in the rain are downright cool. Yes, even the Hulk's narm scene in the cave. The film also required both creatures to do a lot of interaction with real environments, people and other elements, which was pulled off pretty well.
The "London Walk" in 28 Days Later, where Jim roams the city looking for anyone else, passing by several landmarks and giving the completely convincing impression that one of the world's major capitals is devoid of human life. All achieved by filming early in the morning, stopping traffic for a few minutes, and blanking out anything else in post-production.
Voldemort's face in the Harry Potter movies. The really impressive part, of course, is the nose. Many viewers have wondered what they could have done to make Ralph Fiennes' nose look like that short of facial surgery. The answer is that they erased his nose with CGI. And it's worth noting they had to not effect Ralph Fiennes' performance while they were digitally altering his face in every shot in which he appears, whether it's a close-up of his face or a wide shot in which he can only be seen from a distance.
The scene where Luna and Harry watch the Thestrals.
Anything Dumbledore does with his wand is gauranteed 100% unadulterated awesome, though special mention should go to his fight with Voldemort at the end of the fifth and his EPIC ring of fire in the sixth.
Tony Stark putting on his "suitcase armor" in Iron Man 2
By far the better scene was the first movie, when his entire automated workshop dresses him in his Mark III armor, piece by piece, finishing with placing his helmet and mask.
The three main X-Men movies all feature incredible visual effects, especially since the first was released in 2000. Particularly impressive is the scene where Magneto confronts the cops, takes control of their firearms and floats them in midair, aiming at each of them. Also, the various closeup shots of Wolverine's claws emerging, Senator Kelly's Nightmare Fuel mutation, Mystique's transformations (that got progressively better as the films went on) and so on. Also in the first film is an extreme Talking to Himself scene where Wolverine fights Mystique (the latter disguised as Wolverine) and one seriously cannot tell which is the real Logan. The second film had the X-Jet tornado sequence, Nightcrawler's teleportations and the ending scene where Jean Grey telekinetically holds back the water from the dam. The third film has Angel's wings, Quill's spikes and of course the Golden Gate bridge uprooted and plonked on Alcatraz Island. One moment that is slight more subtle is the "digital skin grafting" that made Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen look two decades younger.
Not forgetting the practical makeup effects, such as the muscle suit Vinnie Jones wore as the Juggernaut, Angel's wings in their folded position and of course the full-body makeup applied to Beast, Mystique and Nightcrawler.
The 2006 remake of Poseidon. Beautifully shot capsizing scene or the wonderful opening sequence just goes to show you what computers and animators are capable of.The Capsizing scene and the opening scene
The makeup effects in Beetlejuice. Especially near the end of the movie.
The Fountain. Now consider it's not CG, they used actual deep-sea microorganisms to get their effects because they felt CG would look outdated in a decade or two.
Thomas and the Magic Railroad. Watch the scenes on the Magic Railroad itself. And then there's the scene of Lady steaming up for the first time in decades. They did it perfectly, you'd never be able to tell that engine was only a prop. The model work is good too.
Dragon Slayer, made in 1981, had Vermithrax, who is the most realistic stop-motion animated creature ever, thanks to Industrial Light and Magic's new "Go Motion", which added subtle blur to the movement, removing the jerkiness most stop-motion animated visual effects had.
Galaxy Quest is interesting in that it is a comedy with a big budget, but the money spent actually helps instead of hurting the film. The film uses Stylistic Suck when showing how cheaply-made the in-universe "Galaxy Quest" television show was, but pulls out the big guns with CGI and scale models that were fairly realistic for the time (I daresay the wormhole was as good as the one in Star Trek), building the starship bridge set on an actual gimbal that would shake and tilt, and especially the animatronic and prosthetic effects provided by Stan Winston and his studio.
In the Eragon film, Saphira was a scene-stealer and the lone bright point it had. The magnificent blue-scaled dragoness invoked Just Here for Godzilla in just about everyone who bothered to watch that tripe.
The climax of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.Percy using his I'm-the-son-of-the-sea-god powers to control the water in the nearby water tanks like a Waterbender to kick Luke's ass with. Then he forms a trident out of water. That is all.
Here's one that's a bit different: The Social Network. Armie Hammer provides the face of both of the Winklevoss twins. They edited his face onto the other guy's body. Why is this Visual Effects of Awesome? Because they did it so perfectly that there is absolutely no trace of it in the film. It is utterly seamless.
The Thing (1982)'s transformation in the kennel. While there are some brief moments of slightly dodgy special effects, that first transformation is golden and still terrifying today.
Any Guillermo del Toro movie involving prosthetics will end up like this. The man has designed some of the most fantastical (and bizarre) creatures in movie history, and since one of his first ever jobs in film was as a makeup artist, he knows exactly how to get the look he wants. Screw CGI: look at Abe Sapien's smooth, damp skin, or the Faun's ridged, curling goat-horns. Don't you just want to reach out and touch them? Well, if you'd been on set that day, you could have. That's a magic that no computer can ever give you.
The chariot race for the most part was real and not effects. There were matte paintings for the long shots showing the area surrounding the track of but those were real extras, real sets and real horses. It's movr "Stuntwork of Awesome".
While the later Tremors movies used obvious CG, the original used EXTREMELY GOOD animatronics for the Graboids. Watch the original Tremors and tell me those worms are fake.
The entirety of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, the fight scenes in particular, seriously looked like a live-action video game, with both subtle and not-so-subtle awesome effects: a subtle example is when Scott and Ramona are on a bus discussing the Evil Exes, where the lights behind Scott are shaped like hearts and the ones behind Ramona are shaped like X's at first but then change to hearts as well, and a not-so-subtle example being the holographic Dragons vs. Yeti battle. Other special mentions go to Todd's Vegan Powers, the Exes bursting into coins, and the various weapons, especially Gideon's Pixel Katana. (Notice how anything behind the sword trail looks pixellated!)
Peeta's camouflage in the film of The Hunger Games makes him entirely indistinguishable from the environment and still looks like a plausible, realistic makeup job. No CGI here.
That and the fire. Not just during the chariot rides—all the fire in the movie.
The sequel The Hunger Games: Catching Fire had a bigger budget and better CGI. The best effect is when the Cornucopia in the middle of the arena is spinning.
Everything from The Avengers, from the Helicarrier rising from the ocean, to Tony's new suit, to Hulk's transformations, to the battle scenes. Scenery Porn galore!
The climatic battle scene that takes place in New York? Most of it was either entirely CGI or green-screened at an outside location. The scene with Iron Man coming out of the ocean and flying to the Stark Tower? All CGI.
From Avengers: Age of Ultron: Ultron looks fantastic in what's been seen so far. Given there was worry that he'd be poorly designed (not helped by a rumour that he'd have a more humanoid face), but the final product has gotten generally positive acclaim.
Hugo. Dear Lord, Hugo. It's a dreamy, romantic, somewhat whimsical but still restrained depiction of Paris in the 30s, and features some truly magical visuals, achieved with a mix of CGI and gorgeous period sets. It's also a loving tribute to the great grandaddy of special effects, Georges Melies.
Part of what makes The Adventures Of Captain Marvel one of the greatest examples of the classic Film Serial are the excellent visual effects, especially when Captain Marvel flew using a very well designed and dressed mannequin on a wire and careful filming to make a very convincing sight in long shots for 1941.
Corpse Bride. The only computer effects were the removing of wires for flying creatures, and the fire. The facial expressions are extremely subtle, by use of clockwork mechanics in the puppet's heads. It's a beautiful film.
The film adaptation of Life of Pi has some amazing CGI. Most notably is the model for Richard Parker. Who's CGI for almost the entire film, but looks incredibly realistic.
As reviled as it is, Super Mario Bros. did an outstanding job on its visual effects. It featured CG back when it was still in its infancy but has aged remarkably well, even if the film itself has not. While most of the film used practical effects, the de-evolutions were computer aided.
While the digital giants in Jack the Giant Slayer are quite good, the effects that brought the beanstalk sequences to life are pretty darn impressive.
Although all of G-Force (the movie) looks pretty good, the bit the takes the cake has to be the car/hamster ball chase scene. The FBI guys get to the hideout, and the team have to do a runner in a motorized vehicle that is made out of three hamster wheels and a miniature supercharged engine. They break out the window... the whole scene gets more and more "holy crap this is cool" until the finale of the scene where the FBI jeep accidentally sets off a ground fireworks display, so that the rest of the scene is G-Force fleeing from the FBI while fireworks are exploding all around making it look like they're out driving a fireball.
The Invisible Man: The optical effects utilized for this film in 1933 still largely hold up today.
Gravity. It's very tempting to say just "the entire film" and leave it at that, but in particular, this is probably the most realistic depiction of space in film to date, to the point where it's difficult to believe the entire thing wasn't actually filmed in space.
The Moors, which shows what happens when the filmmakers get the people who worked on James Cameron's Avatar and have them design a Celtic, faerie wonderland.
The transformation sequences in The Wolfman (2010) are pretty awesome, just as Rick Baker's incredible makeup effects. No wonder they won an Oscar for Best Makeup.
Chronicle ... the rest of the movie clearly doesn't stint on its (relatively low) budget.
Man of Steel, a Zack Snyder staple. Special mention has to go to Zod's armor. It looks so real you would never guess that it's CGI.
Lucy: ILM helped create a majority of the digital effects work and their work particularly shines during Lucy's time jump sequence at the end of the film. Another effects highlight is Lucy the Australopithecus afarensis, who features in two scenes.
Guardians of the Galaxy: The world in this movie is created largely through intentional use of practical effects, sets, makeup, and puppetry. All over the place with a fantastic mixture of sets, CGI, makeup, costumes and puppets, but on the commentary James Gunn points out an easily missed one: many people assumed Rocket's facial expressions were done with motion capture, but this actually wasn't possible because of how different human and racoon faces are. So all that emotion comes directly from the animators.
Tony's home blown up and falling into the ocean looks amazing. Special kudos to the people that managed to make the Mark 42 armor latch onto Tony Stark as he's climbing and doing rolls during the entire attack look almost flawless.
As always, the armor's animation itself looks sleek and impressive. Take that up several notches with an entire legion of Iron Man armors and you've got something that's beyond impressive.
Credit also has to be given to the Extremis soldiers, whose organic glowing bodies are rendered just as well as the armors themselves.
Even beyond all of that is the Air Force One sequence. The only CGI in that entire set piece was the plane itself, the compositing, and drawing in Iron Man over his stand-in actor. Everything else was done practically; real people jumping out of a real plane, grabbing each other in the air, and so forth. It all culminated in a massive zip-line rig, dropping each one into the water in sequence.
The Helicarriers falling to the sea is absolutely amazing.
While the Falcon has some changes from the comics version, the Winter Soldier looks almost identical to the comics, which is pretty impressive. Who didn't love seeing him flying around and generally being awesome? Whoever did the flight effects for him needs a medal.
The Winter Soldier's metal arm is a sight to behold, especially since set photos showed an unconnected metal case for the actor's arm. In the film, it's a seamless, smooth limb.
From the start of the film, aboard the pirate ship, Cap appears a true super-soldier, with speed and agility and strength that the first film's CGI didn't catch. None of the Batman films show as well what a superior-trained human can do. Very realistic.
The shield tricks, which have taken a massive level in awesome. In general, the action scenes are very well done. In particular are the fights between Captain America and the Winter Soldier, which many have come to regard as some of the best hand-to-hand combat scenes in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Elderly Peggy Carter is not without its flaws, but considering how bad old age prosthetic makeup used to look in movies, the digital solution that Lola VFX came up with was far more convincing and allowed Hayley Atwell's performance to show through without restriction. How they did it is detailed here.
While the overall quality of Interstellar is debated, the visual effects are almost universally praised, and for very good reason. Unlike with every film of the last 15 years, almost every scene in this film was done with real, physical props and sets, with CGI limited to space backgrounds and a few other scenes. (Of course, this is a defining trait of the director, Christopher Nolan. He often opts for physical props over CGI, and Interstellar is no exception.) The film's starring spacecraft, the Endurance and the two Rangers, were full-size models in shots including actors and highly detailed miniatures in space scenes. The interiors were lit not with studio lights, but with "in-universe" light fixtures, instrument panels, and the like. Even the view through the windows wasn't added in post-production - instead, the views were rendered beforehand, then rear-projected through the windows, just like how it was done in the old days. This use of physical elements combined with a documentary-like style of filmmaking gives the film a highly realistic look unlike any other recent film. But perhaps the most visually striking element of the film is, ironically, a CGI element - specifically, the film's black hole. Generated with real physics-based models of black holes, the film's black hole is the most realistic on ever depicted on film. It has a terrifying beauty not seen in any other cinema depictions of black holes, perhaps because of its realism.
Monsters. Considering the tiny budget, anything resembling special effects would have been commendable but its visuals would actually shame some movies 100 times its cost. And Gareth Edwards did it all himself. Special mention goes to the ending, when two of the creatures meet whilst Samantha and Andrew look on in awe.
The digital de-aging of Michael Douglas to look like he did in 1989 is very impressive - it almost looks like he came off of the set of Wall Street to film a scene for a movie that wouldn't be finished for another 25 years. You can read about the impressive process used to de-age him here in this article.
Near the end of the movie, the Quantum Realm sequence.
The film's awesome looking Yellowjacket suit? It doesn't actually exist, it's completely CGI. The sheer number of people who thought it was a real costume speaks volumes of how impressive it is.
The depiction of Ant Man's size-changing looks insanely cool at times.
The sheer amount of stuntwork and other practical effects that were used to bring the post-apocalyptic workd to life, and all done in vivid colors instead of washed-out so that you could fully appreciate all of it. And on the CG side of things, that sandstorm. Damn.
Pixels: Generally agreed to be one of the lone bright spots of the film. And it's not hard to see why. Special mention goes to the Centipede and Pac-Man sequences.
Suicide Squad: The make-up and prosthetic work for Killer Croc is spectacular. It's rare for such things to look just as good in behind-the-scenes photos as it does on camera.
In an interview after production wrapped up, Lana Wachowski mentioned that the effects in Jupiter Ascending were much more complex than the stuff that was in Cloud Atlas. They spent a lot of time and energy creating a unique feel for every set, from the claustrophobic and crowded Orous to the ostentatiousness of Titus' ship.